Pluralist, a daily link-dose: 21 Feb 2020

Today's links

  1. Bloomberg's campaign NDA is a gag order that covers sexual abuse and other crimes: Bloomberg's lowest moment at the debate came when he fumfuhed over whether he'd release women from his corporate NDAs.
  2. Private Equity has sabotaged every attempt to end emergency room "surprise billing": AKA, "Why didn't you ask your ambulance driver to shop around?"
  3. The Parkland kids have launched a zine: "Unquiet" is a gorgeous, haunting zine from the March For Our Lives, debuted on Teen Vogue.
  4. Tumblr's ad policy: you can't block ads because we don't live in a post-scarcity society.
  5. Gopher shows us how adversarial interoperability was there from the start: the web's precursor depended on adversarial interop to win its place in history, and the web vanquished gopher with yet more adversarial interop
  6. A line of hardcovers designed to double as decor accents: I want to hate this, but they're so pretty!
  7. $2b later, Blue Apron is broke: incoming podcast apocalypse in 3, 2, 1….
  8. Tour Cards Against Humanity's incredible board-game cafe: when amazing people spend amazing sums.
  9. The team behind Frozen are making a musical out of Jen Wang's Prince and the Dressmaker: holy smokes, is this ever great news!
  10. This day in history: 2019, 2015, 2010
  11. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Bloomberg's campaign NDA is a gag order that covers sexual abuse and other crimes

Bloomberg had a Very Bad Night at the Nevada debates but the lowest point was when he weaseled in response to Liz Warren's insistence that he voluntarily end the nondisclosure obligations of women who'd left his companies after alleging various kinds of abuse.

Now, someone has leaked the Bloomberg campaign's NDA to The Nation's Ken Klippstein, and holy smokes is it ever terrible.

It runs to NINE pages, and is so overbroad that it bars Bloomberg campaign staff from speaking out against criminal workplace harassment and abuse, and binds them to an ETERNAL nondisparagement obligation, meaning they can never, ever criticize Bloomberg.

Needless to say, rich and powerful men with long histories of presiding over coverups of abuse do not deploy these nondisclosures because they know you'll be pleasantly surprised when they finally come clean and they just don't want any spoilers.

Incidentally, the Warren campaign's NDA has also leaked, and it's 2.5 pages long, and it explicitly does NOT require silence for survivors of workplace harassment and abuse.


Private Equity has sabotaged every attempt to end emergency room "surprise billing"

"Surprise billing" is when you go to the ER and discover that the doc, the specialist, or the test you got were performed by "independent contractors" who are not part of the hospital's deal with your insurer. It means bills for thousands (literally) for an ice-pack.

The surprise billing epidemic has an unsurprising root cause: private equity looters who buy up doctor's groups and specialists' practices for the express purpose of gouging people experiencing medical emergencies (or their parents – it's rampant in NICUs).

It's working: "The odds of getting a surprise bill increased from 32% (2010) to 43% (2016), with amounts rising from $220 to $628. Out of network billing raises health care costs by $40 billion per year."

The PE firms behind it are the largest in the world: Teamhealth (formerly Blackrock, now KKR) raised ER bills by 68%. They have plenty left over to lobby for expanded shenanigan powers.

Two Congressional bills to address surprise billing were killed by PE astroturf operations where fake groups like "Physicians for Fair Coverage" ($1.2m) and Doctor Patient Unity ($28m) spent millions lobbying and advertising against the bills.

One measure nearly squeaked through, only to be sabotaged by Rep Richard Neal [D-MA], who snuck in a "compromise" that sent all disputes to a corporate arbitrator on the payroll of the PE firms, who would decide whether their paymasters had acted unfairly when they billed you.

The measure rescued the share-price of Envision and Teamhealth, reassuring investors that the gouging could continue uninterrupted.


The Parkland kids have launched a zine

Congrats to the March for Our Lives and Teen Vogue on the launch of Unquiet, a zine edited by the amazing Emma Gonzales.

It's home to some brilliant poetry, collages, remembrances, posters (and more).


Tumblr's ad policy

Tumblr got sold for more than a billion dollars to Yahoo. Yahoo sold its digital portfolio to Verizon for $4.5B. Verizon sold Tumblr to Automattic (aka WordPress) for a rumored $3m. Automattic is ten million times better than Yahoo and Verizon combined, on the best day of their corporate lives.

Now, Tumblr has updated its ad policy support page with the kind of verve and wit we expect from Automattic.

"HOW TO TURN OFF ADS: Unfortunately, until we live in a post-consumerist society built on an economy of surplus instead of scarcity that would enable us to procure both labor and materials at zero marginal cost, there is no way to remove ads from your Tumblr experience."

I love this, but.

There's an equilibrium between ads and readers, and it is maintained by ad-blockers. The way we killed ubiquitous pop-up ads was with on-by-default pop-up blockers (thanks, Opera and Mozilla!). They won the argument publishers had, until then, lost with their advertisers.

Instead of saying, "Ugh, we don't want pop-up ads because they make our website terrible," publishers could say, "Sure, you have the market power, so if you insist we'll have pop-ups. But you should know that no one will see 'em, because they're blocked by default."

Markets are places where bargains are struck. In a world where there is a glut of publishing inventory chasing ads, publishers are not a good proxy for their readers' interests. Ad-block is the way that readers bargain directly with advertisers.

As Doc Searls says, ad-blocking is the largest consumer revolt in history.

Gopher shows us how adversarial interoperability was there from the start

The latest in my series of case histories of Adversarial Interoperability and the role it played in keeping tech competitive is the history of Gopher, which I was able to write thanks to the generous assistance of Gopher's co-inventor Paul Lindner.

Gopher was the web's immediate predecessor, created by a student-support team at UMN, who burrowed under the mainframe systems' guardians and created a menu-driven interface to campus resources, then the whole internet.

They swallowed up FTP, broke open the silos on digital library catalogs, used terminal automation to give anyone access to the Weather Underground service at UMich (who first told them to stop, then asked for usage data for their NSF grant renewal!).

They called it "internet duct tape" – scripts and tools that let them lash together all the disparate services of the net in rough-and-ready, file-to-fit, paint-to-cover fashion. And even as they were doing unto others, others were doing unto them. People created competing gopherspace search-engines (VERONICA and JUGHEAD, to complement ARCHIE, which searched FTP).

The endgame of this was an obscure Anglo-Swiss research project called "The World Wide Web." Browser vendors swallowed gopherspace whole, incorporating it by turning gopher:// into a way to access anything on any Gopher server. Gopher served as the booster rocket that helped the web attain a stable orbit. But the tools that Gopher used to crack open the silos, and the move that the web pulled to crack open Gopher, are radioactively illegal today.

If you wanted do to, say, Facebook, or Ios, or Google Play, what Gopher did to the mainframes, you would be pulverized by the relentless grinding of software patents, terms of service, anticircumvention law, bullshit theories about APIs being copyrightable.

Big Tech tells you it's big due to "network effects" but this is counsel of despair. If mystical, great historic forces are what keeps it big then there's no point in trying to make it small. Better to turn it into a regulated monopoly that need never fear competitors.

(I see you, Zuck)

And Big Tech's critics swallow this line, demanding that Big Tech be given state-like duties to police user conduct that require billions in monopoly rents, AND total control over their platforms, to perform, guaranteeing tech monopolists perpetual dominance.

But the lesson of Gopher is that adversarial interop is judo for network effects. If companies can't use the law to maintain their walled gardens, then they become game-preserves to be stalked by competitors, convenient places to find everyone who might want to switch.

Gopher isn't a one-off. Look close at the history of any of our key technologies and you'll find an adversarial interop story. Check out my growing list of case-histories for more.


A line of hardcovers designed to double as decor accents

Coralie Bickford-Smith designed a line of clothbound Penguin Classics reissues with gorgeous covers and even more gorgeous spines, designed to serve as decor elements as well as literary fodder.

Part of me wants to be snobby about these because books are for reading, dammit, and there are sociopaths who SHELVE THEIR BOOKS BACKWARDS to create a uniform, off-white decor courtesy of the page-edges.

But the fact is these are fucking gorgeous editions, and having them in my house would make me happy not just because they're great books, but because they are edibly pretty.


$2b later, Blue Apron is broke

Blue Apron blew through $2b chasing the elusive market of people rich enough to subscribe to a meal-kit delivery service, but not rich enough to get takeout, buy groceries, etc.

Incredibly the company IPOed and founders and investors got to cash out onto suckers who bought at $11 and now are holding at $3.60 (up from <$1 in 2018!).

But don't worry, Goldman Sachs turned a profit!

Blue Apron was a #bezzle, just like Uber. Its prospectus predicted profitability just as soon as it captured 99% of the home-cooking market (just as Uber told investors it would be profitable once it replaced every public transit system on Earth).

Like many of the companies that flooded podcasting with massive advertising buys, (cough Casper cough), there was never any future for Blue Apron, just as Uber/Lyft are destined to collapse and leave behind smoking transport wreckage in the near future.


Tour Cards Against Humanity's incredible board-game cafe

Cards Against Humanity opened up a gorgeous, amazing, incredible board-game cafe in Chicago. Eater's gallery of photos makes me want to go RIGHT NOW.


The team behind Frozen are making a musical out of Jen Wang's Prince and the Dressmaker

Holy smokes! SO MANY CONGRATS to Jen Wang on the news that her MAGNIFICENT, awesomely queer YA graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker is being adapted as a musical by Kristen and Bobby Lopez, the team behind Frozen!

I've loved Jen's work since Koko Be Good, and was so honored and delighted that she adapted my story Anda's Game for our graphic novel In Real Life.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is about a nonbinary prince and the confidante/dressmaker who helps him become the person he knows himself to be. It's a gorgeous, understated, sweet and wrenching story about being true to yourself, and the power of friendship.

Jen is just wonderful, and this is wonderful news!


This day in history

#10yrsago The #ACTA internet enforcement chapter leaked:

#5yrsago San Francisco's Borderlands Books saved by crowdfunding campaign:

#1yrago Googler walkout ends forced arbitration for employees:

#1yrago Tucker Carlson invites anti-billionaire historian onto his show, then tells him to "go fuck yourself"

#1yrago My interview with Rebecca Giblin on what a copyright designed for creators (not corporations) would look like



Today's top sources: Memex 1.1 (, Super Punch ( and Naked Capitalism (

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I've been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world's prehistory.

Currently reading: I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs" this week; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla